For the first time in many years, now, watchers of waterfowl are seeing better days ahead. Duck hunting in Utah this October will be, it's certain now, better.
The duck population hasn't increased, but what ducks there are in the flyway will be more attracted to Utah.Lake flooding back in the early 1980s inundated the ducks' rest stops. Marshes that once offered food and protection were covered with salt water from the Great Salt Lake and destroyed.
As a result, the number of ducks making stopovers during the annual migration dropped drastically, along with the number of resident ducks nesting in Utah.And so, too, did the number of hunters. From a high of 42,000, fewer than 20,000 made it out to the marshes for the 1989 duck hunt.
This year, predicts Tom Aldrich, waterfowl program coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, more hunters will hunt, and those that do will get more ducks.
"Our feelings are that this will be an excellent hunt compared to last year. With the Great Salt Lake levels down, it's created shallow areas for the ducks. Also, the vegetation has come back a lot more quickly than we expected. "Five years ago a prediction was made that there was one chance in 100 that the lake level would be this low. Well, it is and for the first time in a long time we're predicting a better duck hunt," said Aldrich.
The 1990 Utah duck hunt will open at noon on Oct. 6. The 1990 goose hunt will open at the same time.
According to national figures, the duck population in North America has not increased. Drought conditions in Canada and Alaska continue to contribute to low production. With the exception of gadwall and green wing teal, all other species showed significant drops in numbers.
Hardest hit by the drought have been the mallards and pintails. Overall population figures are less than half what they were at their peak.
Still, Aldrich said, Utah hunters will see more birds come opener.
"There are," he continued, "places for the ducks to rest and feed. We've got some shallow areas now and the marshes are coming back."
As an example, he said, last year at this time there were about 50,000 ducks on the Ogden Bay marshes. "This year, right now," he said, "we've got about 150,000 ducks."
Last year some of the best hunting was around the northern tip of the lake - Public Shooting Grounds and Salt Creek. This year Aldrich expects the good hunting to spread further south.
Val Bachman, manager of Ogden Bay, has repaired dikes and begun vegetation restoration programs. Aldrich said he expects this to be one of the better hunting spots on the opener.
The water level at Farmington Bay is down enough to open up dry ground for hunters to hunt from, but there is still a lack of vegetation.
Also, some of the interior sections of the Bear River Bird Refuge will be open to duck hunting for the first time in several years.
The hunt will, as is traditional now, open at noon on Oct. 6. It will close Dec. 3. There will not be a split season this year. Last year the hunt closed in early December, then reopened for one week between Christmas and New Year's.
The limit on duck will be four. Included in that bag limit there can be not more than four mallards, of which only one can be a hen, one pintail, hen or drake, and two redhead or two canvasback or one of each.
Hunters should check the 1990 proclamation for shooting times.